Acts 2 and 4 Are Not Examples of Socialism

Acts 2:44–45 and 4:32–35 are often used to justify the claim that the Bible supports socialism. For example, Luke says, “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:44–45). He adds,

And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need (Acts 4:32–35).

First, these passages are descriptive, not prescriptive. That means they tell us how people did something at a particular time, but it does not establish a command or something that must become normative. As we look at the rest of the Old and New Testaments, we see contradictory commands against this practice if it was considered normative. Second, it was voluntary. There was no government involvement in collecting or distributing the goods (2:44; 4:32–34).[1] Consequently, this cannot be used to defend Marxian socialism or even Democratic socialism, wherein someone or something other than the individual is determining the distribution of their wealth. It is still capitalism since each is voluntarily sharing his own wealth to help others, and those who did not want to contribute did not have to.

Third, the givers and the beneficiaries were all believers (2:44; 4:32), which can never be said of any communist or socialist government. It matters greatly who are the givers, who are the beneficiaries, and how the money is going to be used. Unlike here in Acts, in socialism, the individual loses control of the management of the money he earns. Fourth, their possessions were not equally distributed, as socialism requires and purports to do. They were given as needs arose (2:45:4:35). Fifth, those who are sharing and those benefiting are a limited number within a larger group (2:44; 4:32). Sixth, following these passages, we see the church gathered and the discipline of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11). Their discipline was not because they owned the land or only gave part of what they sold it for. Instead, it was because they pretended to give all they received, which was lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). They could have sold the land and kept all the money since it was their land and money; they were judged because of their hypocrisy. 

Seventh, the rest of the New Testament emphasizes sharing, giving weekly, and being a good steward rather than giving everything at one time. For example, in 2 Cor 8, we see spontaneous giving (vs. 2–3), willful giving (vs. 4, 8), and testimonial giving of their love (vs. 8), and giving was to be with an attitude of cheerfulness. In chapter 9, we see cheerful giving (vs. 9) and giving to stimulate thanksgiving to God (vs. 12) and glorify God (vs. 13). And Paul reminds the Corinthians it was to be systematic, “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come” (1 Cor 16:2).

Additionally, this type of small community in the midst of capitalism is not proof that communism or socialism will work. Sometimes socialists will point to businesses in America that are more or less employee owned and governed, but that does not prove socialism will work. It only demonstrates that small pockets of socialist societies can work in a capitalist country. Additionally, socialists will often point to countries that are highly taxed welfare states as evidence of socialism working. For example, Democratic Socialists of America claim Norway, Sweden, and Denmark as examples of socialist success stories, but there are several problems with the legitimacy of that claim. For example, writing for The Heritage Foundation, Anthony B. Kim states:

“By the YDSA’s [Young Democratic Socialists of America] definition, socialism entails a centrally planned economy with nationalized means of production. Although these countries have high income taxes and provide generous social programs, they remain prosperous because of their free-market economies. Denmark ranks as the 10th most economically free country in The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, which cites free-market policies and regulatory efficiency as reasons for the high standard of living. Sweden is ranked 15th and Norway 23rd, both with similar descriptions of thriving private sectors and open markets.[2] These three countries are clearly not operating under centrally planned economies, or their economic freedom scores would be significantly lower.”[3]

Neither the New Testament nor social welfare countries like Sweden demonstrate the viability of socialism. Nor do socialism experiments within capitalist countries. The unviability of socialism can be seen where Marxism and socialism have been unleashed, and to date, none of them have even approached utopia, but all have ended in dystopia.

[1] Of course, the communist utopia is supposed to operate without government oversight, but communists (like Max Horkheimer) admit they have no historical examples; further, they (like Herbert Marcuse) admit they have no blueprint to show exactly how it will operate. We are just supposed to have faith it will take place. Marxists never explain how the final state transitions from a dictatorial state to a state of no overseer wherein everyone just does what is right. That dictator, we are to believe, will magically fade into the background, freely surrendering his power. So far, we have never seen a government choose to relinquish its status or power or willingly shrink in size and importance; yet, this is what we must believe to accept Marxism.

[2] There are 195 countries in the world.

[3] Anthony B. Kim and Julia Howe, “Why Democratic Socialists Can’t Legitimately Claim Sweden or Denmark as Success Stories” The Heritage Foundation, October 3, 2022, paras. 6–8, In 2018 these were ranked as Denmark 8th, Sweden 22nd and Norway 28th in this article. Thus, it seems, Sweden and Norway are more capitalistic now and only Denmark is less so than in 2018.

Ronnie W. Rogers